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Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Feb 15;63(4):406-14. Epub 2007 Aug 14.

The interplay of familial depression liability and adverse events in predicting the first onset of depression during a 10-year follow-up.

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Molecular Psychology Unit, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany.



The aim of the present article is to explore interaction and correlation effects between familial depression liability and selected adverse (separation and traumatic) events in predicting the first onset of a major depressive episode (MDE) in a 10-year prospective longitudinal community survey.


Analyses are based on 1982 subjects (14 to 24 years at baseline) without baseline MDE who participated during the whole study period and for whom diagnostic information about psychopathology in both parents was available. The offspring's familial depression liability was determined by aggregating information on parental depressive symptoms obtained from family history data and direct interviews with parents. Data were assessed with the Munich-Composite International Diagnostic Interview according to its DSM-IV algorithms.


Adverse events predicted a substantially increased incidence of MDE among respondents with familial liability but not in those without familial liability. There was a significant interaction between familial liability and traumatic events with the strongest effect for the number of severe traumatic events (risk difference = 11.3%; 95% confidence interval = 3.55-19.15). Associations with familial liability were most pronounced for separation events.


Adverse events are particularly pathogenic in individuals with familial liability. The involvement of interactions and correlations between familial liability and adversity might depend on type, severity, and number of events. Both processes are suggested to be concomitant rather than exclusive.

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